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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: https://www.humanite.fr/le-capitali...

by Jean-Jacques Régibier

Capitalism is incompatible with the survival of the planet

Translated Wednesday 6 September 2017, by Meghan O’Shea

One after another, studies are demonstrating the gravity and the extent of environmental damage. Can we trust capitalism to repair what it has wrought? No, say scientists, environmental activists and MEPs brought together in Brussels by the European United Left (1). They are proposing other alternatives.

The bad news about global warming and environmental degradation has accumulated at an alarming rate since the beginning of the summer, in an avalanche of scientific studies which all lead to the same conclusion: if drastic measures on a global scale are not undertaken quickly, a part of the planet risks becoming unlivable in a rather short time. Some studies even conclude that it is already too late to set things aright.

A non-exhaustive list of these dire warnings issued this summer includes:

- In the journal Nature, French climatologist Jean Jouzel and a group of scientists predict that if within three years greenhouse gas emissions are not stabilized, the planet will shift into another climate type with "catastrophic consequences": rising death rates due to heat (some regions of France were experiencing temperatures above 50° C), wildfires, climatic refugees from regions particularly affected, such as the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and Iran (the planet already has 65 million climate refugees), lower agricultural yields, etc.

- A report by more than 500 scientists, from more than 60 countries (2), shows that 2016 will be the year with the highest temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, ocean levels and amount of land experiencing drought on record.

- According to the American climatologist Michael Oppenheimer, with the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, the chances of its being fully implemented do not exceed 10% (other researchers speak of a 5% chance).

- According to a study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Loyola Marymount University, heat is likely to make South East Asia unlivable by 2100.

- A scientific evaluation carried out last April by UNESCO concludes that if greenhouse gas emissions are not rapidly reduced, 24 world heritage sites will disappear by 2100. This is already the case for 20% of them.

- In early July, a study by American and Mexican researchers (3) showed that land based vertebrate species are going extinct at a rate unmatched since the dinosaurs disappeared more than 60 million years ago. The researchers speak of a "sixth mass extinction of animals" and analyze the "catastrophic" consequences of this "die out" on ecosystems as well as on the economy and society in general.

- According to an article in Science Advances, melting ice in Greenland, a region that has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world, will accelerate in the coming years. According to one of the authors of the study, Bernd Kulessa (Swansea University College of Science), if the ice were to disappear completely, the oceans would rise by 7 meters.

- As was confirmed a few days ago, a 300-meter LNG carrier, operated by the Total Group, crossed through the Northeast Passage, usually blocked by sea ice, without the help of an icebreaker. This dream of linking the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Bering Strait, held by both oil tankers and countries, such as Russia, is now a reality.

- To top it off, an international research institute working with data provided by the UN (4) has stated that since the end of July, the planet has been living "on credit"; in other words, humanity has consumed in 7 months all the resources that the earth can produce in one year. An aggravating circumstance: this fateful date is now arriving earlier and earlier.

- Additionally, and still in regard to consumption, another has shown that if all the inhabitants of the world were to live like the French, it would take three Earths to meet their needs.

Responsible capitalism

While all these studies overlap and agree with one another regarding their findings, they also agree on the causes: the explosive development of production and the unlimited exploitation of the planet’s resources since the beginning of the "Industrial Era" are the causes of this ongoing disaster. The fact that the situation has deteriorated at such a high speed in recent decades is further proof of this. This acceleration is directly linked to the development of capitalism in emerging countries, and more generally to the hegemonic extension of this mode of production throughout the whole of the planet. Recall that China, the largest of all emerging countries, is also the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, just ahead of the United States, the world’s leading capitalist power. "Logically, growth of the system is directly in proportion with self-destruction; this is what happens when we entrust the management of humanity’s resources to the private economy," according to Spanish MEP Xabier Benito (GUE-GVN)

This is also the opinion of Daniel Tanuro, who recalls that the aim of the capitalist system is to produce surplus value; thus, there is no alternative but to replace living labor with dead labor in order to combat the fall in the rate of profit and therefore "to increase the mass amount of goods more and more rapidly, which leads to consuming more and more resources and energy." The eco-socialist repeats: "Capitalist growth is the cause of the ecological crisis, which leads to massive unemployment." This is why, for Daniel Tanuro, it is essential for social and environmental battles to be fought together. He has no regard for the "green capitalism" championed by the European Union at an international level. "Green capitalism is an oxymoron," for Daniel Tanuro, who devoted a book to this subject. "What we see today isn’t the destruction occurring everywhere on the planet; on the contrary, we see its violence," says Eleonera Forenza, who explains, for example, how southern Italy has become the dumping ground for the North.

What are the alternatives?

Once it has been recognized that the advocated manner in which capitalism can be "modernized", its "greening", is at an impasse (as well as the promotion of post-materialist and post-class values ​​that accompany it), we must clearly state, says the historian Stefania Barca, that "capitalism is the problem". Then we must regard politics from this point of view, in terms which must be new and different from those of the twentieth century. "How can we put the brakes on capitalism?" This becoming a central political issue, says Dorothée Haussermann of Ende Gelände, a large coalition of environmental organizations and political groups that focuses on ending lignite and coal mines in Germany. "Coal is part of the problem of global warming and we must prevent its production. We have to start somewhere, it’s up to us to take matters into our own hands," explains Mme Haussermann.

“When it comes to climate change, information is not what we need," says Rikard Warlenhus (Left Party, Sweden); "we feel, however, that making changes is beyond our capabilities." It’s for these reasons that "imagining the end of capitalism is impossible," says Ernest Cornelia (GUE / Die Linke), For him, the question becomes: "How do we move from the current stage to the next?" This question is all the more crucial because, as Rikard Warlenhus explains, “climate issues tend to divide us." For example, states Dorothée Häussermann, "the environmental movement can be conceived as a threat to employment." That is why part of the trade union movement is being converted to "green capitalism", although it is clear that unemployment continues to rise, and that many unions support the use of fossil fuels. "It’s difficult to measure the impact of the 3 decades of decline in the labor movement", says the historian Stefana Barca, although one must be aware that it has caused divisions. That is why, she adds, the struggle for the environment must be seen as "a form of class struggle at the global level between the forces of labor and capital."

Recognizing the importance of environmental battles around the world, with very different forms and actors, the speakers all stressed the need to promote the links between all the existing movements and institutional actors (cities and regions, for example), trade unions and political parties, as well as those at the global level. The objective is to be "on the same scale as our opponent", says Rikard Warlenhus "because capital is larger than the Nation State.”

The crucial role of women

Many analysts also point out the central role of women in ecological and social struggles. This is not to say that it is not good for women to participate equally with men (while equality between men and women is an agreed upon and recurring theme in our societies, it generally never comes to pass) but that there should be a focus on the specific, decisive and innovative contributions that women, alone, can make, in these new approaches to this struggle. The Italian MEP Eleonora Forenza (GUE-GVN) sees the mobilization that followed the Seveso disaster in July 1976 as the founding event of eco-feminism. "Women have played an essential role in requiring medical studies because pregnant women are at risk of giving birth to children afflicted with birth defects. They were also the ones who launched the first calls for the legalization of abortion in Italy." (Editor’s Note: Abortion was legalized in 1978, but it is still very difficult to obtain.) The contribution of women to the ecological struggle is also important to Daniel Tanuro who explains that "the place that is assigned to women by the patriarchy gives them a special consciousness." He stated that 90% of food production in the countries of the South is carried out by women, making them the spearhead of all current battles related to agriculture, land ownership, pollution and the climate.

(1) Symposium of the European Parliament, 27 March 2017, Brussels, published in the Proceedings of the Natural Science Academy (PNAS)
(3) published in July by the US Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and The American Meteorological Society (AMS)
(4) The Global Foodprint Network, Oakland (California)
(5) Daniel Tanuro, "L’impossible capitalisme vert", La Découverte. [Translator’s Note: Published in English under the title: "Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work"]


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